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Chyler Leigh on Becoming the Grey in Grey's, the State of 'Mexie,' and Being a Heavenly Host

One of the things Grey’s Anatomy did with last month’s season finale was dump cold water on the Mark/Lexie push-pull romance. Sort of. Or maybe not really, to hear Chyler Leigh tell it. (Then again, that Jackson is such a perfect match…. Hmm.) TVLine welcomed an opportunity to speak with Leigh about the Grey’s season gone by, who in the “Mexie” mess actually needs to “grow up,” and the possibly very transitional season ahead for the ABC drama. Also: Leigh opens up about a cause very dear to her, and how with raindrops you can help fill buckets for people in need.

TVLINE | Grey’s sexualized Lexie up a bit this season — in the shower with Jackson, on the washing machine…. What was your comfort level with that?
You know, it’s an evolution…. On a personal standpoint, I trust the people I work with and always give that conversation beforehand – “Listen, if you start slipping me the tongue, we’re going to have an issue – know what I’m saying?” [Laughs] But as far as for Lexie, I think it’s really great. I was thinking about it a lot lately, the evolution of the character over the past five seasons now, and it’s been enormous. It’s been a slow process, but you’re really starting to see her become a woman and own up to who she is and be OK with that. In the long run, it will grow her up quite a bit.

TVLINE | [Series creator] Shonda [Rhimes] told me that when it comes to Mark, Lexie has some growing up to do — to which some fans argued that it’s he who does.
I say Mark, but you know — whatever!

TVLINE | How much do you think Lexie is sincerely digging Jackson, and how much do you think she likes him as a distraction from the Mark situation?
Well, it’s a complicated situation. As far as Jackson goes, they have so many similarities. They’re both very driven, they’re both up-and-coming in their careers, they’re into the same things… and there’s something that’s really refreshing about that for her. He obviously really cares about her, and she really cares about him, so there’s that blossoming of something new. But yeah, there is a distraction [element to it], something that sort of eases the pain of the whole Mark triangle situation, which is a really messed-up situation! It has been a couple of times now that he has, at least in her eyes, chosen somebody else or something else over a life with her, and that become a really big roadblock. Do they love each other? Yeah, and I think that’s an obvious thing. It’s one thing to love somebody, or be in love with somebody, or be purely heartbroken, and she’s walking a fine line of all three. It’s hard to balance on three ropes when you’ve only got two feet.

TVLINE | Even though she basically begged him to, do you think a part of Lexie winced when Mark agreed to step aside?
I was very careful in the way that I chose to play that, because I didn’t want there to be too much of her searching him, saying, “No, tell me to stay!” She had to make a decision for herself and say, “You know what, this isn’t where I’m at. I’m with somebody who makes me happy, and who I can see some sort of a future with and still be able to focus on my career and not have to worry about being some step-mom.”

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TVLINE | Shonda also told me she’s approaching next season as quite possibly the show’s last with the original cast members. How does that weigh on people such as you, Jesse Williams…?
The great thing about the show in general is that it has so much legroom to continue to grow. You can continually bring in new characters, so it’s an ER situation in a sense. There’s always someone coming in, the prospect of interns, the residents now having interns, which we really haven’t gotten to see yet…. There’s a lot of room for new storylines and growth. I can represent the Grey [in Grey’s Anatomy], I’m not going anywhere!

TVLINE | Yes, you told me a year and a half ago you’d be up for that, if Ellen Pompeo ever left.
I would. But it is all still very up in the air. I personally don’t know anything about who’s going to stay, who’s going to go, where everybody is with that. But I know certain individuals who would stay, for sure.

TVLINE | If this does turn out to be Ellen’s final season, would you hope for a big storyline for the sisters?
Oh, absolutely. I love working with Ellen and I really appreciate when we get a chance to do that. There’s been a lot of growth in their relationship, and a lot of the stuff that happened in the more recent episodes – like when Thatcher showed up with the young girlfriend, awkward! – it was a really good chance for Meredith to say, “Hey, grow up about this whole thing and appreciate it for what it is.” There were a lot of great moments for the two of them, and I always like furthering that relationship.

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TVLINE | On June 28, you’re cohosting the second annual Thirst Project Gala. How did you first get involved with that cause?
Seth Maxwell, who developed Thirst Project, is an incredibly charismatic and energetic person — infectiously so — in the sense that he is so passionate about raising awareness about the need for water in Africa. He has done tremendous work on college campuses, working with students to make the awareness come through the younger generation, which is extraordinarily important. I met Seth when he was just starting everything, and my husband and I loved the cause, plus Seth has such a huge heart for Africa and the dire needs of 1.1 billion people who don’t have access to clean water. I don’t think people understand the statistics of just how many people that is. My husband and I have funded several wells, and when I see pictures of child drinking from those wells, I start crying. How simple a thing that is, clean water — and we take it for granted.

TVLINE | What can someone reading this interview do to help?
The best thing they can do if they want to know more or get involved is to go to ThirstProject.org and get yourself familiar with the need and the cause and see all the amazing work Seth has done. One of the things Seth did when he went to college campuses is say, “If everyone on this campus gave literally just a dollar, we could fund a well.” When people understand that it’s actually not that far out of reach, they can spread awareness.

TVLINE | And to cohost, you brought one of your friends, J.R. Bourne (MTV’s Teen Wolf), into the fold.
Oh my god, he is just an unbelievable human being. He and my husband worked together on a film years ago, and now J.R. is on Teen Wolf, so when the question of who could cohost this thing came up, my husband said to Seth, “You’ve gotta meet J.R.” And J.R. was like, “Absolutely. I am in.”

TVLINE | I saw the promo you two taped and 1) it’s clever, and 2) you look amazing in it.
Oh, geesh, thanks! I was really happy when we got to do that. We had such a great time shooting it.

TVLINE | Anything else going on this summer?
Just hanging out with family — my kids keep me busy enough! We’re trying to plan a trip to Disneyland. The kids absolutely love it and I’ll be honest — I love it. Part of the deal when we go is that after the kids go to bed, my husband and I go out to ride some of the rides. [Laughs]

TVLINE | What about a summertime guest star gig? Can’t you pop up on one of the hot cable shows, like White Collar, The Closer…?
That’s a really good question! I love White Collar — I think that’s a really smart show, and Matt Bomer is really good. I would do any of them, for sure. If you can pull any strings for me…!